When I got back into backpacking a few years ago, I went on a lot of backpacking trips led by other people. I really enjoyed the social experience of a group trip in addition to being outdoors and the exercise. I found some great hiking partners and ended up doing quite a few trips with them.
That changed last year when I hiked the 270 mile Long Trail, 90% of which I did solo. I still went on a few group hikes early in the season, but they were with very experienced hikers.
This year, I decided to mix things up a bit and do a lot more day hiking in between longer, more difficult backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail. Towards the end of winter, I found a group of people who like to do challenging day hikes in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I enjoyed hiking with them and quickly volunteered to become a trip leader because I thought it would be nice to add some backpacking to trips to their calendar.
I did a bunch of research and found some good AT section hikes that coincided with my goals for the year. I figured out all of the shuttling details and planned out the routes in more detail than I would if I were hiking a solo. Then I posted my trips. The day hikes have been well attended and liked. People like the romance of hiking the Appalachian Trail for a day.
Now the dilemma. I found that the people who signed up for my multi-day backpacking trips really didn't have the experience required to go on them and that I am not willing to nurture them. I think it comes down to that. I made the mistake of impulsively posting some advanced trips and now I going through the difficult process of explaining to people why they aren't qualified to come.
What's worse is that they are serious, experienced day hikers with a lot of peak-bagging experience. While there is certainly some overlap between peak-bagging and backpacking, hiking 10 miles and 3,000 ft of elevation in one day is very different from doing it day after day for 3 or 4 days in the pouring rain in the middle of nowhere.
But my discomfort is not about backpacker qualifications. I think it goes much deeper than that. The truth is that finishing a backpacking route is really important to me, my vacation time is very precious, and although I'm normally very generous, I'm just not willing to fail or risk failure. There, I said it.
I like going on long, difficult hikes that require a lot of focus and sheer will to complete. On top of that, being a section hiker means that I have a limited time window to complete the required miles to get back to my car, and that there are an unavoidable minimum number of miles that have to be completed each day, despite weather conditions. The fact is, that I really push my envelope on backpacking trips.
I've discussed this with a few friends and they have been very understanding. They just think I need to find more people to backpack with who are on my level and have the same expectations. The truth is that I know lots of people like this, but they live too far away or they're pursuing other backpacking projects this year and are unavailable.
So, I've decided to cancel my hardest group trip, a 9 day/130 miler, and just do it solo. I will continue to lead AT day hikes with this group and the occassional overnight backpacking trip, but in the future, those trips will not overlap with any backpacking projects I'm working on. I hope that will make it possible for me to be more nurturing and less stressed out about making my miles and achieving my own goals.
Have you ever experienced this kind of inner conflict between going solo and leading a group on a challenging backpacking trip?